NoKey and I had a rare day off together - something that hasn't happened much lately with my marathon training schedule. We decided that since the weather was nice and since we had a whole day we would pack up our dog and head over to Frozen Head State Park in Morgan County for a day of hiking. Since Frozen Head is a state park, we could take our dog - which is always an issue for us when we want to hike in the Smokies. Dogs are not allowed on trails in National Parks. We decided to do a loop hike with the North and South Old Mac Trails, visiting a fire tower in the middle, and then afterward hiking a short out and back to a beautiful waterfall.
When we reached the parking lot around 11:15 a.m. it was already packed. The sunny skies and nearly 70-degree temperatures brought out everyone for a day hike! We started on the flat old road bed of the South Old Mac Trail, hiking less than a mile before running into the old CCC Dynamite Shack left from the days of this being a CCC camp. Now our trail began the steady climb to the top! We crossed several streams and met lots of hikers coming up and down the trail, many of them with dogs as well! After crossing several streams and taking a few switchbacks, we came up to the old road bed at the Tub Springs Campsite. We took a short break here for lunch, looking around the large campsite and checking out the cool spring house before taking the 0.5-mile walk up the old road to the fire tower at the top of the hill. I stayed down with the dog while NoKey went up and took in the views!
On the way back down the trail we now took the Panther Gap Trail to the North Old Mac Trail to head back down to the car. When we got to this shady side of the hills, we noticed there was still a beautiful dusting of snow on the hillside. Despite several days of warmer temperatures, the shade kept it cool enough to keep it from melting! We passed a ton of hikers and lots of kids and dogs heading up the hill on this section of the hike. Since the hill was also in the shade, it was a bit muddier than the trail we took to the top. I thought our dog would start to get tired or slow down on this section, but she was so full of energy her leash actually gave me a bruise as she drug me down the mountain side! When we reached the bottom of the loop it was still relatively early so we decided to head back a little further into the park and head to the Emory Falls Trail.
We were lucky enough to snag the last parking spot in the lot so we knew this trail would be even busier than the last. The gentle grade and short distance make this hike popular! We walked only half a mile before getting the view of our first waterfall - Debord Falls. From here, it was supposed to only be half a mile up to Emory Falls, but we found it was closer to one mile. The trail left the old road bed and went up on a rockier, eroded climb. When we got to the top there were probably 50 or so people playing in the stream and photographing the waterfall. It was nice to see so many people out and enjoying the day! We had a quick and easy hike back out to the car.
Frozen Head State Park is definitely my favorite place in East Tennessee to hike with my dog. The trails are challenging, and there are close to 50 miles of trails, and you don't usually have to deal with the traffic and crowds of heading up to the Smokies. There are also backpacking campsites and primitive front country campsites and they're all really cheap! If you're looking to spend some time in the mountains with your dog or if you just want to get away from the traffic and noise in the Smokies, I definitely recommend Frozen Head State Park.